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The house is exactly as I remember. The long gravel driveway, the neat, cut grass, the swept concrete path leading up to the door. For a moment I almost forget how long it has been, and I feel twenty years old again, smooth-skinned and ravenhaired, sheltered by the warmth and coziness and innocence of youth. There are tears pricking in my eyes as I follow my mother up the front steps and wait for her to unlock the door.

The kitchen is cold, dim, and spotless, and I imagine my mother on her hands and knees day after day, scrubbing the walls and windows and floor for my return. Above the plastic folding table, on the wall, a familiar-looking girl beams at the camera, her whole life progressing accross the wall in a series of framed photos. My throat closes up as I stare at each one, trying to guess how old she was, where she was, if she was happy. Brenda. Of course she was happy, perched in a baby swing, wheeling down the driveway on a tricycle, smiling with a mouthful of peanut butter. My eyes drift to the later photos: Brenda waving freshly painted nails, laughing with a group of girls, standing in front of the house in a glitterying prom dress and, in the next photo, a graduation gown. The last photo catches my attention--she's with a man, tall and blond, her head resting on his chest, her hand outstretched to display the sparking ring on her left hand. I glance over at Mom, who is leaning against the kitchen counter and realize that she, too, is wiping at her eyes.

"Who's that man?" I ask aloud, not sure if I want to hear the answer. "Is he--I mean, he and Brenda--"

"Ethan," She replies without raising her eyes. "They got engaged last month. He's a sweet boy."

"You never told me about him." My voice is sounds hard, accusatory. I try to soften it, but the words sound alien, strangled.

"Please, Laura," she whispers, and I feel ashamed. She looks so old.

I wander slowly from the kitchen and down the hall, pushing open doors. Mom's bedroom looks the same. The guest room has been painted a light pink, and is cluttered with bottles of purfume, magazines, scarves and photos and dolls. Quickly I shut the door and turn away.

The End

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